Coworking started as a way of providing a shared workspace for freelancers and homeworkers, a way of getting out of the apartment and sharing the resources workers need. But it has evolved into something much more than just space; now, many have become magnets for like-minded people to share ideas as well as resources. The Centre for Social Innovation was created in Toronto in 2004 (hence the Canadian spelling on the door) to be a home for social entrepreneurs who didn't have access to decent working conditions; it has evolved into a " home for a diverse community of people and organizations that are creating a better world." This May, it expanded to New York City.
And what a spectacular expansion it is, in a giant ocean liner of a streamlined-style building in Chelsea, the Starrett-Lehigh building. CSI occupies 24,000 square feet of the giant 2.4 million square foot former warehouse. This is no warehouse district anymore, with the high line just steps away; it's hot.
Inside, Director of Design Matthew Cohen has stripped the space down to its essentials with a minimalist interior. What he has put back into the space is almost entirely recycled and repurposed;
Tables are made from old signs, elevator doors, heavy timber. Not the usual stuff, but CSI says "We know that the best coworking spaces are more than just tables and chairs. We create spaces that are equal parts function and whimsy—spaces for people and ideas to collide."
The space is a mix of private offices, private desks and hot-desks that are shared, along with meeting rooms and classrooms. Seth Godin, the author and serial idea man was doing a lecture when we arrived. I have known him since his days as a canoe instructor at Camp Arowhon.
Godin posed in a canoe for the cover of one of his books, so he and I were both impressed with this particular workspace.
The kitchen, not yet finished when we were there, is in fact an old drug store.
The Centre for Social Innovation has a bigger mission than to just be a co-working space. They explain:
More importantly, the Centre for Social Innovation is a place of possibility.
We know that society is facing complex economic, environmental, social and cultural challenges. We also know that new innovations are the key to turning these challenges into opportunities to improve our lives, our communities and our planet.
They have done it in Toronto, and I have no doubt that they will take Manhattan. More at the Centre for Social Innovation.
I interviewed Director of Design Matthew Cohen, while sitting around an old elevator door.
It's a pretty good party venue too; Margaret Badore and I attended their opening, coincident with New York Design Week.